Raspberry Pi Runs XBMC; Reliably Decodes 1080p

This is the Raspberry Pi board, an ARM based GNU-Linux computer. We’ve heard a little bit about it, but it recently garnered our attention when the machine was shown running XBMC at 1080p. That’s a lot of decoding to be done with the small package, and it’s taken care of at the hardware level.

Regular readers will know we’re fans of the XBMC project and have been looking for a small form factor that can be stuck on the back of a television. We had hoped it would be the BeagleBaord but that never really came to fruition. But this really looks like it has potential, and with a price tag of $35 (that’s for the larger 256MB RAM option) it’s a no-brainer.

Now there’s still a lot of rumors out there. We came across one thread that speculated the device will not decode video formats other than h.264 very well since it uses hardware decoding for that codec only. We’ll reserve judgement until there’s more reliable info. But you can dig through this forum thread where the XMBC dev who’s been working with the hardware is participating in the discussion.

Don’t forget to peek at the demo clip after the break too.


[via Reddit]

62 thoughts on “Raspberry Pi Runs XBMC; Reliably Decodes 1080p

    1. The raspberry just take the technology develop by the advent of cellphones and puts it in a tinkerer’s package.

      It’s funny though that intel’s ATOM platform has trouble decoding 720p even, the shame eh, embarrassing as hell for intel.

      1. No, not really. Atom is marketed as a general-purpose low-cost, low-power x86 processor primarily for Netbooks, Nettops, and some general-purpose embedded applications. Reliable 1080p video decoding isn’t the primary concern – general performance in a Windows environment is.

        The Raspberry Pi, on the other hand, uses the Broadcom BCM2835, which specifically targets multimedia applications like set-top boxes.

        1. What are you smoking? XBMC can run on atom and decode 1080p just fine!

          Note that the RaspPI can’t decode 1080p in software it uses hardware acceleration, and DTS pass thru for audio — same goes for atom, it can do 720p in software with no issues (even on intel chipset), but for 1080p, you need a graphics card that supports hardware acceleration (nvidia ion chipsets work out of the box playing 1080p for example).

  1. YES! Another reason to buy the RaspberryPi!!! I love that board!!!!

    Ya make sure you get the Model B for $35, as pointed out in the article blurb, you get 256MB of RAM (rather then 128MB) and you get 10/100 Ethernet Port.

    Can’t wait until they get these back from manufacturing!!

    Kernel Source for the RaspberryPi is up on github: https://github.com/raspberrypi/linux

    RaspberryPi.org for more information and soon where you can buy it.

  2. Freaking awesome!!!! Hopefully the crew finds a way to make it decode other formats. If they do then I will buy one of these for each of my 12 rooms. I already plan on buying a couple for office and kitchen use, but to have to able to decode all major media formats will make this be a great device to stick on any monitor. With this, I could even get rid of me childrens wii in their bedroom since they only use it for WiiMC to watch spongebob.

  3. Thin on details. decoding 1080p is one thing Decoding 1080p in 50 different video formats as well as AC3 audio is another thing.

    If this will play any codec like XBMC on a pc with a Nvidia card will and output Toslink audio.. IT’s a giant win.

    1. Have fun waiting for the 7th generation hardware video decoder which handles formats other than h.264, if you really want it to support everything XBMC does.

      Seriously, this does what it does and is a leap over anything else for under $50.

  4. If you’re looking for something more flexible and available now, the PandaBoard appears to be a more powerful BeagleBoard that’s being advertised as handling 1080p. And it’s not like the BeagleBoard is a wimp; iirc it can handle 720p.

    Both boards have gstreamer support, so it’s not like you’re left in the multimedia dark. It’s just that there’s no widely-supported integrated media center software using it.

    I haven’t been following the Raspberry Pi hoopla, though. It’s entirely possible that it outstrips all those boards.

    1. I did some additional research about the DSPs in question.

      Beagle/PandaBoard use TI’s C64x, which already has broad codec support.

      Raspberry Pi uses Broadcom’s VideoCore IV, which is only known to have h.264.

      I’m told that Broadcom > TI.

      BUT. According to Wikipedia, VideoCore development tools are only available to manufacturers under NDA. TI, however, has the C64x SDK available for free download.

      I think that’s the kicker for long-term codec support. VideoCore appears to have limited codecs and no options for new ones. C64x can be freely extended, so codec support can be added in the future by anyone.

      If I was looking to build a media center based on one of these platforms, I know which one I would pick.

      1. In fact the Videocore supports a LOT of different codecs. The problem is the licence fee that MUST be paid when buying the SoC in order to support them. For example AAC costs more to licence than H264 – including licences for all formats would double the price of the board. The licences that will be supplied are H264 and MP4. Audio is decoded on the Arm, so you can download what you want for that I believe.

      2. Beagleboard has a OMAP3 SoC that includes a C64x DSP, but I think NOBODY uses it (at least with open/free software), all media players use only the CPU.

        Pandaboard has a different SoC that IIRC, doesn’t have a DSP.

        1. Wikipedia will tell you that the PandaBoard has the same basic architecture as the Beagleboard, using the OMAP4430/4460 SoC. It’s using TI’s C64x DSP.

          Because of TI’s openness with development tools, there is a much higher potential for codec support.

          From 5 minutes of googling, I could find DSP support for these codecs:
          * MPEG-2, VC-1, H.264 (GeeXboX)
          * TI has a collection of codecs, but I can’t find a specific list

          And, of course, there are non-free codecs available if you’re so inclined.

    1. @fartface

      While the cpu is nearly maxed when not playing video, the xbmc team has clearly stated that that is expected due to the menu rerendering in a continuous loop. While playing video the cpu is nearly 0%, the gpu is handling all the video playback.

  5. Note that $35 is the *target price* for these things and as they say: “As we wait for the first units to come back from the factory, Dom’s been getting our kernel sources into a fit shape to release”…. I predict the final price + shipping to be much higher. Remember the hyped “$99” OLPC?

    1. If you read a bit more about the project you will see that its more than just a target price. Every design decision has been based on keeping this price. The shipping may be expensive due to it being delivered from the UK though. Still will be a lot cheaper than any other alternative.

      1. I agree… Affordable and reliable (trackable) International shipping is going to be the weak spot in this project. Government and Union controlled postal systems are broken, commercial shipping systems are far too expensive. The person or company that fills this shipping gap is going to be very rich indeed.

    2. yeah, i’m pretty suspicious about their ability to maintain their price, particularly when they were taken by surprise that they couldn’t get it assembled in the UK as cheaply as they could in china. (hello, never built anything ever before?)

      i have a feeling they’ll be surprised by the QA/QC on what they get back from china.

      1. Jay – If you believe you know what Kickstarter is, then your “no prior manufacturing experience” comment is unnecessary and redundant. Kickstarter is what Kickstarter IS.

        It’s common practice to tack a percentage onto the build cost of materials, for both assembly and profit. (Although they are a non-profit, the cost rule of thumb should have been valid for manufacturing).

        Things have progressed so far that I have plenty of confidence they’ll succeed with this batch

        I just hope this isn’t so much work that the people involved lose interest. That’s my only worry.

      2. @Jay

        No need to be hostile or rhetorically ask if I am in the right thread.

        You said “they were taken by surprise that they couldn’t get it assembled in the UK as cheaply as they could in china. (hello, never built anything ever before?)”

        You expressed surprise at their lack of experience. That Kickstarter projects are those of novices lacking prior experience… this is just common sense. (I mean no disrespect to Kickstarter projects, and sorry for having to explain this very slowly to you).

      3. @jay – OK, I checked, and I agree you are correct that this never was a kickstarter project. I had believed they were for some time.. I think I just misread it and never saw my error. I’ve been following this project for some time.

        As to my general point – perhaps worded poorly (especially without the support of the Kickstart “point”) but it was that these folks make no bones about being new to manufacturing, so chiding them for the manufacturing country of origin seemed uncalled for, especially given they’re a non-profit.

        Anyone can say it is obvious that manufacturing locally is more expensive, but, most people assume that is due to labor costs. Who would expect a tax penalty if you want to assemble it locally?

        (Although in the USA we have a similar thing, with a tax credit if you outsource middle class jobs… and a tax penalty if you keep it local).

      4. i wasn’t chiding them for being new. i was establishing that fact (they’ve never manufactured anything before), to support my actual point: “i’m pretty suspicious about their ability to maintain their price” (or perhaps to ever actually offer the price they’ve been talking about.)

        while i certainly hope they left themselves quite a bit of margin, i’m worried they didn’t leave enough to deal with any unexpected shipping/customs issues, or to account for whatever the rate of failed boards turns out to be.

    1. Your ATV2 which at present can only do up to 720p(correct me if I’m wrong) vs this at a third the cost doing 1080p. I can certainly see the advantage in the RPi, but the ATV 2already in a case an obviously you already own it.

      1. The Pi will also have an interface that is even slower than the already-slow ATV2 running XBMC. I’m sorry but just because the Pi can decode 1080p in one format doesn’t mean it will be a usable HTPC solution for anyone but a hacker who is willing to put up with the shortcomings.

  6. I’ve been wanting one of these since I first heard about them, early last year. They will be perfect for a wearable computer platform and many other things. I’m so glad to see they aren’t going to become vaporware like so many suspected. I’ll be ordering several when they are finally released.

  7. Broadcom is only releasing the access to the gpu as a binary driver. The chip is sort of weird in that the system boots off the gpu . Users will have access to the api but not the source code for the gpu. Other codecs really are not likely since it only has h.264 in the chipset. It is the same gpu that the new Roku boxes use so expect that kind of performance. It will be able to do things like the angry birds game type performance but don’t expect it to play every codec and work like a HTPC, it isn’t targeted at that market, but more as a general computer for education.

    If you want something that can do what a HTPC can then you need to look at reverse engineering some of the bluray players like the one I did. It has a broadcom 700Mhz cpu, can decode multiple codecs, the sata dvd drive has been replaced with a sata hard drive. They all run linux inside and you can pick up broken players cheap.

  8. Keep in mind that the PI isn’t an HTPC. It’s a ultra low cost embedded Linux multi purpose platform that happens to decode HD video, but was never intended as something you put in the living room, so opinions shouldn’t be based on its ability to do that. HD out could be used to output high res information to a modern monitor without going analog and still having nothing to do with videos.
    There are many other things you can do with it, much cooler than playing HD videos.

  9. There’s already many low powered low cost linux devices and some of them are great. But I think some fail big time in features.
    I mean, an android with linux is far more useful then this and it has the advantage of having a screen, even touchscreen, and a good battery that lasts (at least 12hours of good use).
    Ganted for $35 I couldn’t buy but anyway for having a similar functionality I would also spend much more.
    I think it will be great for small applications only. for more hardcore stuff there’s better solutions.
    I mean, with an android cell phone you have:
    -lcd screen
    -keyboard and/or touchscreen (a good input method)
    -3G or even 3.5G or 4G
    -a rather good and optimised CPU and GPU (at least low power)
    -3.5mm jack
    -usb (yes it fails a bit on the ports but an hub can be added at low cost)
    -hdmi out
    -camera (some with even 2 and some even support 1080p)
    -GPS some even with GLONASS
    -other sensors like accelerometer, gyroscope etc
    -built-in flash memory
    -micro SD slot (it fails here, a micro to full size SD converter can be added at low cost but, no SATA or IDE but neither some boards can have it and usb can be used)
    -battery (and this is important since it’s so well optimised. no other linux device will be has good in this. it can even run of only on solar panels 24/24)
    -perfectly made case/enclosure

    Also, many developers use it, supports other linux distros rather good.

    To all add this to a raspberry pie it would cost more then buying an android phone. Yeah I known the objective is not that one but I made my point.

    1. @peter
      Different horses for different courses.

      All those things you cite as “missing” – they do not belong in a barebones gumstick-type PC. You do not have a valid point at all. In fact you’re coming across like those people who are on TV, shopping for their first home with a barebones budget, and they you start naming off all the features you expect like a swimming pool, 5 bedrooms, and 4 car garage. O RLY? is what we’re all saying when we read your post.

      I’ll be able to plug mine into stuff I already have, make a networked print server for my USB label printer, and interface with my Arduino and my old 8-bit computer. (There’s no Serial port on the Raspberry, but USB serial should work fine).

      I guess the success of your point depends on the question, are any companies selling fully loaded systems like you cited, and selling them for $35? Maybe you should start a business and do exactly that. But we’re not waiting, a lot of us see the value here. This is a very well executed startup project, so far.

  10. DHL from UK to US, with limited tracking (7 to 14 days delivery), for a package that size should run in the ball park of $11 with reasonable volume. With more volume the price could fall into the $6 range. I expect them to hit reasonable volume as soon as they get the mailing and sorting process straight, so maybe 2 weeks?

    So assuming $35 as their retail, and $11 in shipping, it’s a fair deal. Assumes shipping isn’t a profit center.

    A third US party shipper might never be of benefit as any savings in shipping would be eaten by the 3rd party margin, so there is little incentive other than time.

    They’ve show it running Doom 3 Arena, and multiple demos. It should be a fairly usable platform.

    Me, I want to hook it to a nice, large touch screen.

  11. I’m very excited about this one and can’t wait to get my hands on about one or a dozen..

    But enough hype and showing what it can do one day when it’s available. Please don’t hold release up any because you want XBMC in the default file system – let that evolve separately.

    [Good demo – now get back to work!!] ;)

  12. Wow, the Rasberry Pi is about as powerful (processor and ram wise) as my full desktop that I bought in 2004 (and have “retired” to XBMC media center computer). I really look forward to someone hooking up 100+ of these in a Beowulf Cluster.

  13. can someone stop with the troll food already! it’s a cute little barebones project computer that you can learn to code on, that’s what it should be celebrated as, the proof will be in the support and innovative projects around the board, please stop with the hd critique and whether or not it will play your fav. movie back. it does. end of.

  14. OK I have one of these little puppies (ok pies) on hte way. I intend to use it as an enbedded control unit (with remote programability/updates)
    I believe a lot are missing the point. This is a ‘hackers’ bosrd, to be used as the base for somethign new and different.
    The fact it supports any form of streaming/video playback is amazing (especially for the price). I do need it to play videos, and Im not afraid of reencoding (elsewhere) on the fly or not.
    My project is a fortune teller, wiith a crystal ball. The crystal ball gets a projection shown in it (via video, projection), and of course sound etc. I currently have it running on a really old pc (486 ish) and it works as I intend. This will be an update, that will make it smaller and more effieient…. a little interfacing to the gpio and Im good to go….

    Just remember its not a desktop and not a cell phone it is what it is, and anyone with a little immagination and know how will seet this little board free …. and give us all a ‘tool’ to use in enabling things

  15. Let me tell you a few things about the Pi:

    It’s DEFECTIVE!. USB doesn’t work properly, the SD card driver hogs the cpu, the board was revised because of some big flaws. The worst is, USB will very probably never work alright due to defects in the USB IP in the processor and a terrible kernel driver for it. Try to do anything even remotely meaningful with the Pi and you’ll hit a brick wall.


    And there’s more: several people have been banned for stating the Pi is defective in several forum threads. Apparently this foundation enjoys behaving like a big bully. First the fanboys come and bully the person who complains (it can’t be… that’s not really a problem… what do you expect for a few bucks), then the moderators come and look for excuses to ban him/her.

    I’ve sold my Pi on eBay for more than it cost me (yeah, for real), and you should too.

  16. I own a Beagleboard, a Pandaboard ES and an O-Droid X. Everybody here keeps saying that the Beagleboard and Pandaboard are better, but I can tell you right now that this is definitely not the case. Maybe in theory, on paper yes. In reality, not a chance.

    Currently the Pandaboard ES (i.e. the fastest Pandaboard) is basically unusable. You need to an old kernel to get any kind of decent video acceleration happening. Unfortunately you can’t get the old kernel running on the new Pandaboard, so you need an old non-ES Pandaboard to be able to play even standard definition video. I’ve been messing with this thing for MONTHS trying every possible combination of distro and kernel and nothing. The SD card interface is beyond slow. It drags the whole system down to go-get-a-coffee-between-mouse-clicks-slow. I’ve even tried ultra high speed SD cards. The Panda will boot off of them, but unfortunately it does not support UHS-1 protocol (hardware limitation) so you still top out at about 18 MB/s on the SD interface. At first glance this doesn’t seem too bad, but for some unknown reason, even with swap and noatime, this is unbearably slow. Not even good enough for a word processor slow. I’ve almost given up on the Panda as a platform. Shame.

    The ancient Beagleboard running Angstrom is currently FAR better than the Panda. I have one of the early, slow Beagles with 128 megs of RAM. It’s a half way decent little desktop if you throw Angstrom linux on it. It will play HD video with an already included NEON accelerated video player. It’ll render webpages (slowly). I’m sure an XM version or even a rev C with more RAM would be miles better, but even the old one I’ve got is half-way decent. The only pain in the butt with the Beagle is all the bootargs that have to be set through the serial console.

    The O-Droid X? Unbelievable. This thing is a totally usable, responsive desktop. The eMMC card makes all the difference. It boots and feels very fast. Video acceleration (under Android) is working and stable. Not there yet with Ubuntu. Anyway this thing is a killer, and cheaper than the Panda. I see no reason to even consider a Panda now that this exists. Once Ubuntu gets better video hardware support I will probably replace my DESKTOP with it. It’s seriously that fast. Right now I have it in my bedroom hooked up to a big screen TV as a secondary computer. It works, but Android is clunky as a “computer” type computer.

    I don’t have a Raspberry Pi yet but I look forward to trying it. I suspect that it will be miles better than the Panda (it would really be hard to be worse), probably better than my old Beagle.

    Seriously though, the Pandaboard is not there yet. Even as a headless server the thing is crap. The thing crashes regularly (like a day or two… it’s a known power management issue) so I can’t even use it for a Zoneminder server. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for some sort of magic with Wayland and new display drivers, but somehow I suspect that won’t happen.

    1. Thanks for the info Joel. I can tell you the Pi is probably at the Pandaboard level, SD card and USB trouble, all sorts of glitches to work around.
      I’ll have to try the ODROID-X, it looked great on paper but I was reluctant to buy it given how poorly other boards are designed and supported.

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